Temple Owls defense a work in progress

The Temple Owls had trouble stopping Navy’s vaunted option offense in a 31-24 loss. 

NCAA Football: Navy at Temple

Temple Owls players enter the field for warm ups prior to the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Lincoln Financial Field. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

(C+P) — It was a hot and humid day in South Philadelphia.  Many of the Temple Owls fans were filing into Lincoln Financial Field hoping that the Owls could make it two in a row against Navy.

Two games into the young year the Temple Owls find themselves with a 1-1 record after a 31-24 loss.

Although most of the spotlight has been focused on an offense that has scored 61 points in two games the defense has been a factor in each game, for better or worse.  It has created a number of turnovers.  It also has had a tough time with certain elements, which include the run game.  There is one thing that is certain; the Owls defense is a work in progress.

Against the Midshipmen the Temple defense was able to force three more turnovers, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown.  Temple has been able to force 10 turnovers in its first couple of games, returning two for touchdowns.

One of those touchdowns came from defensive end Sharif Finch.  The sophomore deflected an option-pitch by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and recovered the ball in the end zone.

“I played right into his hand,” stated the Navy signal-caller Reynolds.  “It was a great play by him.  He was playing well all day.”

Temple Owls defensive lineman Sharif Finch (56) recovers a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against the Navy Midshipmen during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Temple Owls defensive lineman Sharif Finch (56) recovers a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against the Navy Midshipmen during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

The Owls are on a pace to force 60 turnovers, an astounding number.  Although it will probably not happen, the increased focus on creating turnovers has paid off.

“It has been an emphasis for us,” Owls head coach Matt Rhule said.  “All that work on the turnovers will pay off.”

However, there are some major concerns in regards to the run defense.  In the first two games of the season the rushing defense has been a little shaky.  In the game on Saturday the unit gave up 487 yards rushing on 63 carries resulting in an average of 7.7 yards per carry.

Before Vanderbilt fell behind big in the previous game, the Owls allowed running back Ralph Webb to average 5 yards per carry on 14 rushes.

“We did not play good defense at all today,” said Rhule.  “We were really out-physicaled.  They handed the ball off to their fullback, and he is getting four, five, six, seven yards.  That is disappointing for us.  I do not mind if we get beat by a better team.  I mind if we get out-physicaled.”

Another reason that the defense has had some trouble is injuries.  Alex Wells, a transfer who went on to become a starting safety, is out for multiple games due to a tear in his knee.  He is expected to miss significant time this year.  Linebacker Nate D. Smith answered, “It would have helped us out a lot, but right now it is what it is.”

Strong safety Jihaad Pretlow agreed, “Not having Alex is definitely a loss, but at the same time the guys behind him have been coached and taught the same way.  We all come out and practice the same way.  I have faith in anyone that is back there with me.  We just have to come out, play hard and stay focused.”

The Temple Owls will now head into the bye week.  After that the Owls will look to bounce back against FCS-opponent Delaware State.  The week will give the defensive staff more time to evaluate the defense and reiterate their focus on being a more physical, stout defense.

Temple is looking to assert itself as a contending team in the American Athletic Conference.  Its head coach is not taking the close loss as a moral victory.

“We are beyond the point where it is okay to lose,” Rhule said. “This year, it’s trying to find ways to win.”

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